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Texans need verdict on Paxton charges

November 26, 2018

It’s a good thing that Texans who have been hoping for a resolution to the three felony charges hanging over their attorney general have learned to be patient. The case that has dragged on since 2015 has seen another procedural setback. It certainly won’t be cleared up this year, and given the track record of this case, there are no guarantees for 2019.

Which is a shame because … this is not normal. Even though Texans have grown accustomed to the highest law enforcement official in the state spending most of his first term facing serious charges — and really, they had no other choice — it’s not supposed to be like this.

Under our system of government, high-ranking legal officials like an attorney general or Supreme Court judge should not be serving under a cloud. Taxpayers should have a certain degree of confidence in their ethical standards and ability to do their jobs. That’s true of any public official, from dog catcher to ag commissioner, but it’s especially important for the men and women who are charged with upholding our laws and prosecuting people who don’t. You sort of want to know they’ll be ordering mug shots to be taken, not posing for them.

But of course all that has gone out the window with Ken Paxton. And the multiyear status of this case is no accident. It appears that Paxton wants to keep fighting procedural battles to avoid a trial on the nuts and bolts of this case. If he were innocent, you might think he’d want his name cleared as soon as possible, being attorney general and all.

The latest glitch involves a successful move by Paxton’s attorneys to challenge the payment rate for the special prosecutors handing this case. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that a trial court in Collins County exceeded its authority when it agreed to pay the special prosecutors more than the county’s standard rates. So that court ordered the trial court judge in Harris County to issue a new order on the pay rate for the special prosecutors.

The prosecutors have hinted they might drop the case if they are not paid what they believe their time is worth — in this case, $300 per hour. That is far more than special prosecutors typically earn, but then again, this is hardly a run-of-the-mill case. If the special prosecutors walk away from this case, the trial judge could try to find attorneys who would handle it for whatever amount he decides. Or he might dismiss the whole thing.

At a minimum, it looks like several more weeks (or months) of delay, with the possibility that Paxton’s lawyers could appeal whatever ruling is reached — extending the whole circus for several more weeks or months.

That would be an injustice, because Texans deserve to know if their attorney general is innocent or guilty of these charges. The case should not just melt away because of time and procedural ping-pong. Unfortunately, that’s been the story for three years, heading into a fourth. That pattern needs to end, and soon.

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